Haggard Removed As Leader Of New Life Church

Board Finds Haggard Committed 'Sexually Immoral Conduct'

Members of the evangelical New Life megachurch sang and cheered during their weekly service Sunday, less than 24 hours after the church's founder, the Rev. Ted Haggard, was dismissed for "sexually immoral conduct."

They sang refrain after refrain of "I will bless the lord at all times"

Church elders planned to read a letter explaining their decision, and a letter from Haggard himself also was to be read.

Many congregation members had appeared upbeat as they began arriving before 8 a.m.

"I think it is going to be a time when people look into their own hearts and seek God's face for a deeper level of holiness in their lives," said Mark Everitt. He said the church will not only survive but thrive: "A church body is bigger than one man."

Haggard had resigned two days earlier as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, where he held sway in Washington and condemned homosexuality, after a man claimed to have had drug-fueled trysts with him. He also placed himself on administrative leave from the New Life Church, which has 14,000 members, but its independent Overseer Board took the stronger action Saturday.

"We, the Overseer Board of New Life Church, have concluded our deliberations concerning the moral failings of Pastor Ted Haggard," a statement from the church said. "Our investigation and Pastor Haggard's public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct," the statement issued Saturday said. Read the full statement.

The board said Haggard agreed with the decision and that the search for a replacement would begin immediately.

Mike Jones, describing himself as a gay escort, told news media this week that Haggard, who also has resigned as president of the influential National Asssociation of Evangelicals, had been paying him for sex for three years.

Haggard, 50, immediately denied the allegations, but later acknowledged having paid the man for a massage and to provide methamphetamine.

The church statement said the investigation would continue to determine how extensive Haggard's misconduct was.

The Rev. Ross Parsley will lead the church pending the selection of a replacement for Haggard, which will be completed by the end of the year. A letter explaining Haggard's removal and an apology from Haggard will be read at Sunday services.

"The language of our church bylaws state that as overseers we must decide in cases where the senior pastor has demonstrated immoral conduct whether we must remove the pastor from his position or discipline him in anyway we deem necessary," the statement said.

"In consultation with leading evangelical and experts familiar with the type of behavior Pastor Haggard has demonstrated, we have decided that the most positive and productive direction for our church is his dismissal and removal."

A church elder, James Groesbeck, a church elder, said he was glad the investigative board acted quickly.

"I'm saddened by what came out, but I think they've done their job," Groesbeck said by telephone. He said right now, church members are drawing strength from each other and are caught up in the activity, but that likely will change. "I think it's going to be really difficult in a week or two," Groesbeck said.

Haggard started New Life Church with meetings in his unfinished basement 20 years ago.

Jones, 49, stunned the evangelical Christian community this week by claiming Haggard paid him for drug-fueled sex for three years at his Denver apartment. Jones, who said he is gay, said he was upset when he discovered Haggard and the New Life Church had publicly opposed same-sex marriage, a key issue in Colorado with a pair of issues on Tuesday's ballot.

"It made me angry that here's someone preaching about gay marriage and going behind the scenes having gay sex," Jones said.

Jones also said Haggard snorted methamphetamine before their sexual encounters to heighten his experience.

Haggard told reporters he bought meth but threw it away; he said he received a massage from Jones after being referred to him by a Denver hotel. Jones said he only advertised in gay newspapers and on the Internet and no reputable hotel would have referred massage work to him.

Jones said the relationship began when a man identifying himself as "Art" -- who said he was a married man from Kansas City, Missouri -- sought his services. He said he didn't know "Art" as Haggard until he saw him recently on The History Channel and learned about his religious background.

"It was not emotional. It was physical, just strictly physical," Jones said.

Jones said he has voice mail messages from Haggard, as well as an envelope he said Haggard used to mail him cash.

A written statement from Haggard was to be presented to congregants at the Sunday services of New Life Church.

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